Many people think of the role of speech therapists as being limited to speech and language. However, we also play a key role in pediatric feeding therapy evaluation and treatment.
Our Fort Myers speech-language pathologists are experts in oral mechanics – all the way down to the esophagus. We’re specially qualified to support individuals with feeding and swallowing difficulties.
Most people don’t put a ton of thought into the process of feeding and swallowing, but but both actually involve dozens of steps and systems working in conjunction. Feeding is what it takes to get food off the plate and into the mouth. Swallowing involves all the steps it takes to chew and then move food down the throat while protecting the airway leading to the lungs.
A child may have a feeding AND swallowing disorder, or just one or the other. For example, a child on the autism spectrum may have a feeding disorder wherein their food intake is extremely limited due to sensory processing difficulties. They may only need feeding therapy. A child with tracheostomy tubes or dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or odynophagia (pain while swallowing) may only need swallowing therapy.
Every parent of a toddler at some point has lamented their eating habits – with a common refrain being, “She’s soooo picky!” But how do you know whether this is “just a phase” or if you should seek feeding therapy?
Our FOCUS occupational therapists in Fort Myers can start out by saying, first and foremost, we know how quickly dinner tables can devolve into battlegrounds. Parents may beg, demand, reward, short-order-cook – and it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. The worst part of it is that without strategy, you may pour all this effort in and see no real returns.
So we start by telling parents firstly to stop and look at this – for just a moment – from your child’s perspective. Eating is actually a pretty complicated thing to a fairly new human. You have to use all of your sensory systems. You have to exercise and coordinate so many complex facial and hand muscles. Put something in front of them that’s completely unfamiliar (and maybe a little scary-looking?) and it’s easy to see why a child can get completely overwhelmed.
Here is the good news: It’s not YOUR job to MAKE your child eat. Nope, it’s really not. What we advise to parents of children who take feeding therapy is to think of their role as providing their child with both the opportunity and the skills they need to CHOOSE to eat new foods.